Today the Gospel allows us to enter into that private space with Thomas, the disciples, and Jesus. We are invited into a room that is locked from the inside to become part of the great teaching Jesus has to offer.
Twice Jesus appears to the apostles while they are there. They are in a bit of limbo, unsure perhaps what to do next: They are Afraid. (Our Gospel says they were afraid of “the Jews” but we know that Jesus and all of his disciples were Jewish. The Gospel means the Jewish authorities, the temple police we hear about in the reading from Acts today. They are afraid of being arrested too. They are afraid and hiding out in the upper room where they held the last supper. Jesus essentially comes to bust them out.
This story is most widely remembered for the phrase it has engendered: “Don’t be a Doubting Thomas.”
But I believe this is a special passage that has a lot more to offer us!
Jesus appears to the disciples bringing with him the gift of the Holy Spirit. He breathes on them (which is the gift of Peace - and within it, the power to forgive sins.) Jesus is helping us understand that peace and forgiveness are intrinsically connected. Jesus brings the key to that locked door. He commissions the disciples to go back out into the world. He says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Thomas was not with the disciples when Jesus returned the first time. They tell him, “We have seen the Lord.” And He reacts rather defensively to the story they have recounted. Not until I have seen and touched will I believe. He has a very human response. In doing so, Thomas invites us into that locked room… into the scene so that we can be there too. Thomas is our “way in” so to speak.
Thomas means twin. And in some ways he mirrors us through his reaction. Scripture refers to him as, “Thomas also called the twin.” And “Didymus” which also means Twin. He helps us into the story by mirroring us – and the way we may feel:
Why God, did you choose a moment when I was not here to reveal yourself? Why come when I was not here? What about me? I am suffering and in grief too – and you have revealed yourself to my siblings.
How come some of us seem to have peace and faith and belief, but I am struggling?
It is something we can relate to…And our anger and sadness are reactionary. Our instinct is often not full of peace and forgiveness. We feel victimized and may cast blame or mistrust.Thomas’ reaction is relatable. He essentially says, “Well I’ll believe it when I see it.”And Thomas allows us to feel it and say it openly to God, not to hide away, but to engage.
And then Jesus does come - and says “touch my wounds.” He doesn’t come to walk on water, or turn the water into wine, or feed the masses. He comes as wounded and says, “touch me.” I mirror you too. Jesus replies I am with you. I know human suffering. I am with you even in your woundedness. It is intimate and mutual. I am a God who identifies with your suffering and your pain.
Jesus has been abandoned by his friends, tortured and killed, but when he returns the first thing he does is say, “Peace be with you." I forgive - and now I give you the power to forgive. When he comes to the upper room, he has a mission. And it has to do with moving us out into the world with the power of forgiveness in the life of the Spirit…
"Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
This is his message from the beginning of the Gospels to the end. Earlier when the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, he gives them the Lord’s prayer. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” He also tells us the second greatest commandment is to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” Inherent in that notion is that we love ourselves. Forgiveness is to be extended to others, but we also need to practice forgiving ourselves, to come out of our locked up rooms; places where we hide from ourselves and become strangers to God. We can think the worst of ourselves and we may project the worst onto others. Jesus asks the disciples and us to move out into the world in a new way: A way of forgiveness and peace.
Jesus shows up as resurrected in the fullness of his Spirit. This Bodily resurrection we speak about, has to do with that fullness of Spirit…that we like Jesus will be resurrected in the fullness of our being. As Christians we are working at growing into that fullness of our being through growing in wisdom, forgiveness and as bearers of peace. As the body of Christ we also carry one another’s wounds. When we doubt, or struggle with our belief, another one of us, another part of the body can carry us the rest of the way. We buoy one another. This is Christian Community. They say noone can be a Christian alone.
As our collect today reminds us Jesus brings the new covenant of reconciliation. We are brought together with one another and God through forgiveness - and recognizing the suffering in each of us. It is not an easy task, but it will transform us.
Thomas also contributes a model for us - not simply a model of doubt, but a model of honesty. He doesn’t remain a stranger to God. He says "it like it is." He isn’t afraid to engage in intimate dialogue with God.
Jesus says, “Blessed are those that Believe but have not seen.” This is us, and it is Thomas’s intimate relationship with Jesus who helps us into this space through our own pain and doubt. Thomas in his honesty and love delivers us into the moment.
Jesus reminds us that pain and suffering is something we all share.
Forgiveness is something we can offer…
And Peace depends on it.